tue 26/05/2020

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am review - a fitting tribute to a masterful storyteller | reviews, news & interviews

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am review - a fitting tribute to a masterful storyteller

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am review - a fitting tribute to a masterful storyteller

Engaging and comprehensive documentary capturing the brilliance of Morrison's work

Inimitable: Toni Morrison(c) Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

When the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died last year, it was a chance to celebrate the remarkable life of a storyteller who shook the literary establishment. Her work, including her debut novel The Bluest Eye, broke radical new ground in depicting African American life.

When the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died last year, it was a chance to celebrate the remarkable life of a storyteller who shook the literary establishment. Her work, including her debut novel The Bluest Eye, broke radical new ground in depicting African American life. Now her life is the subject of a new documentary directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

This is a documentary that brims with love and admiration for Morrison’s work and life. All the critical biographical details are correct and present. Still, Greenfield-Sanders’ film is much more than a tick box collection of life events. We see her journey from her working-class upbringing in Ohio, studying at Howard University, before going on to work for a division of Random House, where in her spare time she started her literary career.

The greatest strength of the documentary is the way Greenfield-Sanders places Morrison’s work in its historical context, reminding us not only of the importance of her writing but also how truly profound her voice was.

Taking the audience back to the time of the publication of the author’s most seminal work is a canny device. It allows Greenfield-Sanders the chance to highlight how much of an uphill battle Morrison faced before becoming an established figure. Various moments in the film highlight the narrow-minded reviews that criticised Morrison for pigeon-holing herself by only writing about the African American experience. History proved them wrong.(c) Timothy Greenfiled-Sanders: Toni MorrisonGreenfield-Sanders systematically tackles the breadth of Morrison’s work. Still, the majority of the focus falls on the impact of The Bluest Eye, as well as Sula, and perhaps her most famous work, Beloved. There is also time given over to the moment when Black American authors came together asking why Morrison had been overlooked for every major literary prize. This, as fans of the author’s work and life will know, culminated in her receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

For a ‘talking heads’ documentary, the film is incredibly immersive, anchored around a late-in-life interview with Morrison, who brims with energy and passion. Academics, fellow-writers, friends and colleagues, including Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz and her editor Robert Gottlieb, recall elements of the author’s life in a series of animated and engaging interviews.

This is a dense documentary, and  Greenfield-Sanders gives disappointingly little direct attention to Morrison’s actual prose. Instead, his focus is on her legacy and impact. Some viewers might find this approach frustrating, but it’s impossible to deny the power of watching such a remarkable life that produced such a cherished body of work. This is filmmaking that makes you want to reach for your bookshelf and remind yourself of the brilliance of her power as a storyteller.

@JosephDAWalsh

A documentary that brims with love and admiration for Morrison’s work and life

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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